You might find that you have some leftover rotisserie chicken or grilled chicken breasts from dinner that you want to freeze to save for a later date.
It is absolutely fine to freeze cooked chicken once it has cooled, but what if you defrost the cooked chicken, eat a bit and still have some leftover, can you refreeze the leftover cooked chicken?
There is no straight forward answer to this, and it all depends on how the chicken was frozen, and how it was defrosted.
So why should you be cautious when refreezing cooked chicken? Not only does refreezing pose the risk of an increased amount of bacteria, but freezing and refreezing chicken, or any food for that matter, can greatly destroy the quality of the meat.
The reason the quality is reduced is that ice crystals form during the freezing process, which breaks down the cell walls of the frozen items, ultimately turning it mushy and not so edible.
So, if you are unsure about whether or not it is okay to refreeze chicken, here is a rundown of everything you need to know.
Why Refreezing Chicken Is Not Always A Good Idea
One of the main reasons it is not recommended to refreeze chicken is that it will largely ruin the texture and quality of the chicken.
Cooked chicken which has been frozen, thawed, and refrozen again, will more than likely be really tough, chewy, and not hold the same flavor it did before.
This makes it quite unappetizing for most people, who prefer their chicken to be soft and succulent. However, this does not necessarily pose a health risk, and if you do not mind chewy chicken, then under the right circumstances and with proper storage, chicken can be refrozen.
Another main concern with refreezing chicken is the increase in bacterial growth. Freezing does help to stop bacterial growth, but it does not kill off bacteria.
When the cooked chicken is thawed and warmed up past 40 degrees Fahrenheit, bacteria are allowed to grow on the chicken, and spread, which could cause food-borne illness.
There is always bacteria present on food, but if kept under the right condition, the number of bacteria present on the chicken can be kept below a dangerous threshold, and low enough for the body to fight off.
Refreezing Cooked Chicken
If you want to refreeze cooked chicken, you will need to make sure you follow the right procedure when thawing the cooked chicken for the first time, to ensure it will be safe to refreeze.
When you are thawing the cooked chicken for the first time, you need to make that you allow it to thaw in the refrigerator. This involves taking the chicken out of the freezer the night or day before and placing it in the fridge to thaw slowly and at a safe temperature.
By thawing the chicken this way, it will not reach above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, if your fridge is running at this temperature or below, which means it will be safe to freeze again if it is kept at this temperature and does not reach a higher temperature.
For cooked chicken that has been thawed in hot water or by the defrost function in the microwave, you should not refreeze it. There is too high of a risk that the chicken has been exposed to heat that has allowed for bacterial growth, and therefore a higher chance that you could become sick when eating the chicken once it has been refrozen.
While it is not completely certain that you would get sick from thawing chicken by placing it in warm running water or by defrosting it in the microwave and then refreezing it again, it does place a higher risk of sickness, and it is up to you whether or not the risk is worth it.
Cooking Refrozen Chicken
You do not need to throw away any leftover cooked chicken that has already been frozen. If kept below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, the chicken will be fine to use again.
Here is how to make the most of leftover frozen chicken, to ensure it is fine to freeze and be eaten again.
- Allow the chicken to be left in the fridge until you are ready to freeze again, but do not leave it for longer than a day.
- Divide the leftover chicken into smaller portions to make it easier to freeze and eat again.
- Defrost the refrozen chicken slowly in the fridge overnight, to make sure that it does not rise to a temperature conducive to bacterial growth before cooking.
- When reheating the food, make sure it is left to reach a temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 2 minutes, to ensure it is hot throughout, and that any bacteria that can be killed by heat is killed.
- When the chicken is defrosted in the fridge, it should only be reheated once. Reheating it and cooling it more than once allows for a higher risk of food-borne illnesses.
- Chicken which has been thawed and refrozen should be removed from the freezer and eaten within 24 hours of it being defrosted.
- Only remove the cooked chicken from the freezer if you intend to use it within the next 24 hours.
How To Refreeze Cooked Chicken Safely
You need to take care when refreezing cooked chicken, to ensure it is kept safe and protected in the freezer.
Choose to freeze it in airtight plastic bags which are freezer safe, or in freezer-safe airtight containers that can be sealed tightly.
You should immediately place the leftover chicken in the freezer if it has been thawed in the fridge, and do not leave it out at room temperature. By placing the cooked chicken into the freezer immediately, it quickly decreases the temperature and therefore lowers the risk of contamination.
Cooked chicken, if stored properly, can be kept in the freezer for four months. After this, the texture, quality, and taste of the chicken will begin to deteriorate and might have a freezer burn. While it will be fine to eat after this time, it will not be so great to eat.
Here are some cooked chicken dishes that can be frozen, and some that should not:
- Chicken Noodle Soup – Chicken noodle soup is fine to freeze, soups made without cream and potatoes freeze well.
- Chicken Salad – It is not a good idea to freeze chicken salad, especially if it has a mayo dressing. The mayo will separate and have a gross texture. Salad ingredients also turn to mush when kept in the freezer, and will not be appetizing at all.
- Chicken and Dumplings – Chicken and dumplings can be placed in freezer-safe bags or containers and frozen well. You will need to leave a little room in the bags or the containers as the meal will expand slightly. If you want to keep the shape of the dumplings, you should freeze them separately.
- Fried Chicken – Fried chicken is fine to freeze, you should place it in an airtight freezer container. If you want to learn more about storing fried chicken, check out this article.
- Chicken Breasts – Chicken breasts are great to freeze. You can pop a few together in a container or freezer bag, or you can freeze them individually for smaller portions.
Can you defrost chicken and place it back in the fridge?
Chicken which has been defrosted by being left in the fridge can be kept in the fridge for an additional one or two days before needing to be cooked.
However, if you defrost chicken in the microwave or in water, it would need to be cooked immediately.
How many times can you reheat chicken?
Once the chicken has been cooked, you should ideally only reheat it once. While you might be able to get away with reheating once more, it is not advised.
This increases the risk of food poisoning, as the more you cool and reheat the chicken, the greater the chance of bacteria growth which could cause sickness.
Is it okay to defrost chicken in the sink?
It is fine to defrost chicken in the fridge if you are going to use it straight away and discard any leftovers.
To defrost chicken in the sink, you should fill it with cold water and submerge the chicken in the water, placed in a tightly sealed plastic bag. You can leave it to sit in the water until it has thawed.
You cannot refreeze chicken which has been thawed this way, as once again you run the risk of an increase in bacteria growth which can cause illness.
Refreezing Cooked Chicken
It is perfectly fine to refreeze cooked chicken, as long as you store and handle it properly. Cooked chicken can only be refrozen if it has been defrosted in the fridge and has not been allowed to heat up to higher than 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Allowing the cooked chicken to reach a temperature higher than this increases the chance that more bacteria will grow on the chicken, and freezing does not kill off this bacteria, so they will be present when the chicken has thawed once again, and could possibly make you sick.
Make the most of leftover chicken by storing, handling and refreezing the chicken safely.